Why am I embarrassed that I can’t have a baby? You always hear women who have infertility saying they feel ashamed, like they are less of a woman, or that their bodies betrayed them. I don’t have any of those feelings but I feel straight up embarrassed of my broken ovaries. Like when someone sideswiped me on the highway and the side of my old car was all banged up. I drove around feeling embarrassed, hoping no one noticed, until the car mysteriously died a month later. Or when you have people over and there’s a gouge in the dining room wall next to the buffet from when you tried to hang a mirror that was too heavy and you banged the corner into the wall, and you’re hoping they don’t notice, and if they do, it’s all, “Oh yeah that JUST happened, we didn’t get a chance to fix that, we’ve been so busy, you know how it is, nothing to see here, look away!”
(And no, I still haven’t patched it.)
There’s this surface level kind of vague embarrassment I feel about being childless when my family members or coworkers, who don’t know I am infertile, make their incessant remarks, “Just wait until you have kids” or “Must be nice to have your weekends free!” As though I don’t desperately long to have my weekends filled with my children. I always feel a little embarrassed to be seen as an irresponsible lazy woman child, who can’t be busy or stressed out until she has kids.
But instead of setting them straight with the truth, I just say something like, “Mmhmm,” and nod. Because to tell them the truth would be worse than showing them the little gouge in my wall, worse than showing them the laundry Armageddon I have hidden in the laundry room, worse than the weeds in my garden, or the disorganization in my storage closet. To show someone the malfunction in your body, more private than your home, not caused by neglect, but by the bad luck of drawing the genetic short straw, is to make yourself the unfortunate pitied, the ones who make them think, “Thank God I don’t have that problem. I’m so glad I’m not them.”
With infertility, there’s no one rallying behind you. No one is signing up for charity walks in your honor. No one is labeling you an infertility warrior, and only some will admire your strength. After all, your life isn’t in danger, and you can always “just adopt.” Not everyone thinks their insurance policies should cover your infertility, because that’s how they see it, you know – their insurance, your infertility. Many cannot relate at all. Some think they can because they had a pregnancy loss and three healthy children, or infertility that was quickly remedied. Some will have a story of someone else who did a random meaningless thing and poof- they got pregnant, so there’s your cure. Some will say it was meant to be and God has a plan and somehow you’re not expected to be insulted by that.
In Big Little Lies on HBO, the character Celeste says, “Perhaps my self-worth is made up by how other people see me.” I don’t remember this line from the book, but it hit home for me. I am not proud to say, but also too honest not to say, that my self-worth is partially made up of how other people see me. It’s not as bad as it was when I was in my 20s, but it isn’t something I can make disappear at will.
It seems like when women announce a pregnancy they are heaped with praise and celebratory responses. Having a baby is treated like an achievement (and for some of us, it actually is.) Mothers are said to have the hardest job in the world. I’ve seriously heard mothers say that when they had children they became complete as human beings and learned the true meaning of love. Pregnant women? Walking glowing miracles of life! When everyone is comparing pregnancy experiences, and potty training stories, and asking everyone but me what books to buy for a six-year-old, how can I not feel left out, less than, left behind, not even a peer?